In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it.

Consonant length is distinctive in some languages, for instance Arabic, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Classical Hebrew, Hungarian, Catalan, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Ganda and Russian. Most languages (including also English) do not have distinctive long consonants. Vowel length is distinctive in more languages than consonant length, although several languages feature both independently (as in Finnish), or have interdependent vowel and consonant length (as in Norwegian and Swedish).



Lengthened fricatives, nasals, laterals, approximants, and trills are simply prolonged. In lengthened stops, the obstruction of the airway is prolonged, delaying release. That is, the "hold" is lengthened. Long consonants are usually around one and a half or two times as long as short consonants, depending on the language.

In some languages, e.g., Italian, Swedish, Faroese, Icelandic and Ganda, consonant length and vowel length depend on each other. That is, a short vowel within a stressed syllable almost always precedes a long consonant or a consonant cluster, whereas a long vowel must be followed by a short consonant. In Classical Arabic, a long vowel was lengthened even more before permanently geminate consonants, this is no longer exhibited in varieties of colloquial Arabic or even MSA, however.

In other languages, such as Finnish, consonant length and vowel length are independent of each other. In Finnish, both are phonemic, such that taka /taka/ "back", takka /takːa/ "fireplace", taakka /taːkːa/ "burden", and so forth are different, unrelated words; this distinction is traceable all the way back to Proto-Uralic. Finnish consonant length is also affected by consonant gradation. Another important phenomenon is that sandhi produces long consonants to word boundaries from an archiphonemic glottal stop, for example |otaʔ se|/otasːe/ "take it!"

Distinctive consonant length is usually restricted to certain consonants. There are very few languages that have initial consonant length; among them are Pattani Malay, Chuukese, a few Romance languages such as Sicilian and Neapolitan, and many of the High Alemannic German dialects (such as Thurgovian). Some African languages, such as Setswana and Ganda, also have initial consonant length—in fact, initial consonant length is very common in Ganda and is used to indicate certain grammatical features. In spoken Finnish and in spoken Italian, long consonants are produced between words by sandhi effects.

Among stops and fricatives, in most languages only voiceless consonants occur geminated.

The reverse of gemination is the process in which a long consonant is reduced to a short one. This is called degemination. This is a pattern observed in Baltic-Finnic consonant gradation, where the strong grade (often, but not necessarily nominative) form of the word is degeminated into a weak grade (often all other cases) form of the word, e.g. taakkataakan (burden, of the burden).



Arabic uses a diacritic shaped like a small written Latin "w" called shadda (شدة). It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled. It is the most common ḥaraka that is sometimes used in ordinary spelling to avoid ambiguity. Example: <ر> /rr/; مدرسة /madrasa/ school vs. مدرّسة /mudarrisa/ teacher (f.)


Danish has a three-way consonant length distinction. For instance:

  • bunde [b̥ɔnə] 'bottoms'
  • bundne [b̥ɔnnə] 'bound' (pl.)
  • bundene [b̥ɔnn̩nə] 'the bottoms'

The word 'bundene' can phonemically be analyzed as /bɔnənə/, with the middle schwa being assimilated to [n].


In English phonology, consonant length is not distinctive within root words. For instance, 'baggage' is pronounced /ˈbæɡɪ/, not */bæɡːɪdʒ/. Phonetic gemination occurs marginally.

However, gemination does occur across words and across morphemes when the last consonant in a given word and the first consonant in the following word are the same fricative, nasal, or plosive. For instance:

  • calm man [kɑːˈmːæn]
  • this saddle [ðɪˈsːædəl]
  • black coat [blæˈkːoʊt]
  • back kick [ˈbækːɪk]
  • crack cocaine [ˌkrækːoˈkeɪn]
  • cattail (compare consonant length in "catfish")

With affricates, however, this does not occur. For instance:

  • orange juice [ˈɒrɪndʒ dʒuːs]

A minimal pair demonstrating gemination in English is "night train" versus "night rain".

In some dialects gemination is also found when the suffix -ly follows a root ending in -l or -ll, as in:

  • solely [soʊlːi]

In most instances, the absence of this doubling does not affect the meaning, though it may confuse the listener momentarily. Notable examples where the doubling does affect the meaning are the pairs "unaimed" [ʌnˈeɪmd] versus "unnamed" [ʌˈnːeɪmd], and "holy" [hoʊli] versus "wholly" [ˈhoʊlːi]. (The latter two are identical in many areas, however.)

In some varieties of Welsh English, the process takes place indiscriminately between vowels, e.g. in money [ˈmɜ.nːiː] but it also applies when the orthography dictates it, e.g. butter [ˈbɜt̚.tə][1]


Estonian has three phonemic lengths; however, the third length is a suprasegmental feature, which is as much tonal patterning as a length distinction. It is traceable to allophony caused by now-deleted suffixes, for example half-long linna < *linnan "of the city" vs. overlong linna < *linnahan "to the city".


Consonant length is phonemic in Finnish: For example, takka [ˈtakːa] (transcribed with the length sign [ː] or with a doubled sign [ˈtakka]), 'fireplace', but taka [ˈtaka], 'back'.


In Ancient Greek, consonant length was distinctive, e.g., μέλω [mélɔː] "I am of interest" vs. μέλλω [mélːɔː] "I am going to".

The distinction has been lost in Modern Greek, except in dialects such as the Cypriot-Greek dialect spoken in Cyprus, in varieties of the Aegean sea and elsewhere.


In Hungarian, consonant length is phonemic, e.g. megy [mɛ͡ɟʝ], 'goes' and meggy [mɛ͡ɟʝː], 'sour cherry'.


In Standard Italian, consonant length is distinctive.[2] For example, "bevve" /'bevve/ ['bevve] means "he/she drank", while "beve" /'beve/ ['be:ve] means "he/she drinks/is drinking". Tonic syllables are bimoraic and are therefore composed of either a long vowel in an open syllable (beve) or a short vowel in a closed syllable (bevve). Double consonants occur not only within words but at word boundaries, where they are pronounced but not necessarily written: "chi + sa" = "chissà'" (who knows) [kis'sa] and "vado a casa" (I am going home) pronounced ['va:do ak'ka:sa]. See syntactic doubling (The last example refers to standard (Tuscan) and central-southern Italian).


In Japanese, consonant length is distinctive (as is vowel length). Gemination in the syllabary is represented with the sokuon, a small tsu: っ for hiragana in native words and ッ for katakana in foreign words. For example, 来た (きた, kita) means 'came; arrived', while 切った (きった, kitta) means 'cut; sliced'. バグ (bagu) means '(computer) bug', and バッグ (baggu) means 'bag'.

Latin and Romance languages

In Latin, consonant length was distinctive, as in anus "ring" vs. annus "year". (Vowel length was also distinctive in Latin, but is not reflected in the orthography.) Gemination inherited from Latin still occurs in Italian and Catalan. It has been almost completely lost in French and completely in Romanian.


Ganda is unusual in that gemination can occur word-initially, as well as word-medially. For example kkapa /kːapa/ 'cat', /ɟːaɟːa/ jjajja 'grandfather' and /ɲːabo/ nnyabo 'madam' all begin with geminate consonants.

There are three consonants that cannot be geminated: /j/, /w/ and /l/. Whenever morphological rules would geminate these consonants, /j/ and /w/ are prefixed with /ɡ/, and /l/ changes to /d/. For example:

  • -ye /je/ 'army' (root) → ggye /ɟːe/ 'an army' (noun)
  • -yinja /jiːɲɟa/ 'stone' (root) → jjinja /ɟːiːɲɟa/ 'a stone' (noun); jj is usually spelt ggy
  • -wanga /waːŋɡa/ 'nation' (root) → ggwanga /ɡːwaːŋɡa/ 'a nation' (noun)
  • -lagala /laɡala/ 'medicine' (root) → ddagala /dːaɡala/ 'medicine' (noun)


In Polish, consonant length is distinctive. For example,

  • rodziny – 'families'; rodzinny – adjective of 'family'
  • leki [lɛki] – 'medicines'; lekki [lɛkːi] – 'light' (adjective referring to weight only)
  • Grecy – 'Greeks' (noun); greccy [ɡrɛttsɨ] – 'Greek' (adjective).


Punjabi in its official script Gurmukhi uses a diacritic called an áddak ( ੱ ) (ਅੱਧਕ, IPA: [ə́dːək]) which is written above the word and indicates that the following consonant is geminate. Gemination is specially characteristic of Punjabi compared to other Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi-Urdu, where instead of the presence of consonant lengthening, the preceding vowel tends to be lengthened. Consonant length is distinctive in Punjabi, for example:

  • ਦਸ [d̪əs] – 'ten'; ਦੱਸ [d̪əsː] – 'tell' (verb)
  • ਪਤਾ [pət̪a] – 'aware of something'; ਪੱਤਾ [pət̪ːa] – 'leaf'
  • ਸਤ [sət̪] – 'truth' (liturgical); ਸੱਤ [sət̪ː] – 'seven'
  • ਕਲਾ [kəla] – 'art'; ਕੱਲਾ [kəlːa] – 'alone'


In Russian, consonant length (indicated with two letters, as in ванна [ˈvannə] 'bathtub') may occur in several situations.

  • Word formation or conjugation: длина ([dʲlʲɪˈna] 'length') → длинный ([ˈdʲlʲinnɨj] 'long')
  • Phonological alternations:
    • высший ([ˈvɨʂːɨj] 'highest').[3]


In Ukrainian, geminates are found between vowels: багаття /bɑɦɑtʲːɑ/ 'bonfire', подружжя /pɔdruʒʲːɑ/ 'married couple', обличчя 'face'. Geminates also occur at the start of a few words: лляний /lʲːɑnɪj/ 'flaxen', forms of the verb лити 'to pour' (ллю /lʲːu/, ллєш /lʲːɛʃ/ etc.), ссати /sːɑtɪ/ 'to suck' and derivatives.


In Wagiman, an indigenous Australian language, consonant length in stops is the primary phonetic feature that differentiates fortis and lenis stops. Wagiman does not have phonetic voice. Word-initial and word-final stops never contrast for length.


In written language, consonant length is often indicated by writing a consonant twice ("ss", "kk", "pp", and so forth), but can also be indicated with a special symbol, such as the shadda in Arabic, or sokuon in Japanese. Estonian uses 'b', 'd', 'g' for short consonants, and 'p', 't', 'k' and 'pp', 'tt', 'kk' are used for long consonants.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, long consonants are normally written using the triangular colon ː, e.g., penne [penːe] (a kind of pasta), though doubled letters are also used (especially for underlying phonemic forms).

  • Catalan uses the raised dot (called an "interpunct") to distinguish a geminated l from a palatal ll.
    Thus, paral·lel ("parallel") and Llull .
  • In Hungarian, digraphs (e.g. sz /s/) are geminated by doubling the first letter only, thus ssz (rather than szsz) /sː/. (For a complete list of Hungarian digraphs, see Hungarian orthography.)
  • The only digraph in Ganda, ny /ɲ/ is doubled in the same way: nny /ɲː/.
  • In Italian, geminated instances of the sound [kw] (represented by the letter Q) are always indicated by writing cq, except in the word soqquadro, where the letter Q is doubled.
  • In Swedish, the general rule is that a geminated consonant is written double, unless succeeded by another consonant. Hence hall ("hall"), but halt ("Halt!"). This does not apply to morphological changes (so kall, "cold" and kallt, "coldly" or compounds [so tunnbröd ("flatbread")]. The exception are some words ending in -m, thus hem ["home"] [but hemma ("at home")] and stam ["stem"], but lamm ["lamb", to distinguish the word from lam ("lame")], with a long /a/), as well as adjectives in -nn, so tunn, "thin" but tunt, "thinly".

Other representations of double letters

Doubled orthographic consonants do not always indicate a long phonetic consonant.

  • In English, for example, the [n] sound of "running" is not lengthened. Consonant digraphs are used in English to indicate the preceding vowel is a short (lax) vowel, while a single letter often allows a long (tense) vowel to occur. For example, "tapping" /tæpɪŋ/ (from "tap") has a "short A" /æ/, which is distinct from the diphthong "long A" /eɪ/ in "taping" /teɪpɪŋ/ (from "tape").
  • In Standard Modern Greek, doubled orthographic consonants have no phonetic significance at all.
  • Hangul (Korean alphabet) and its romanizations also use double consonants, which indicate faucalized voice.

See also


  1. ^ Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, pp. 335
  2. ^ "Raddoppiamenti di vocali e di consonanti". Dizionario italiano d'ortografia e pronunzia (DOP). RAI. 2009. Retrieved November 11, 2009. 
  3. ^ Савко, И. Э. (2007). "10.3. Произношение сочетаний согласных" (in Russian). Весь школьный курс русского языка. Современный литератор. pp. 768. ISBN 985-456-150-X.978-5-17-035009-4. Retrieved 2009-02-13 

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